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"The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes -- Holiday Edition" at Out Front Theatre Company. (Photo by Alex Pirtle)

Review: Out Front’s twist on “Golden Girls” is as riotous as it is raunchy

Picture it: Atlanta, 2021. A beloved ’80s sitcom meets a naughty sketch comedy show performed by drag queens. That’s the closest way to describe Out Front Theatre’s production, The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes — Holiday Edition, onstage through December 19. The show is billed as an original take on what a Christmas with Dorothy, Rose, Sophia and Blanche would be if the cameras never stopped rolling. 

The Golden Girls premiered in 1985 and ran for seven seasons. The plot centered on four women living together in Miami: Blanche, the sexy Southern belle; Rose, the ditsy Midwestern sweetheart; and Dorothy and her mother Sophia, two Sicilian New Yorkers whose sharp wits could give chef’s knives a run for their money. The show was acclaimed for offering a post-second-wave feminist take on what it means to age as a woman in America. These ladies had snow on the roof, but fire in the furnace. 

TJ Ruth (left) and Precious Anika West perform a number as, behind them, Lisa Boyd (in the Santa suit) takes five. (Photo by Tyler Ogburn)

At Out Front, the evening starts with a screening of the “Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas” episode from season five, where the ladies volunteer at a homeless shelter. To their surprise, one of the people waiting in line is Dorothy’s philandering ex-husband Stan, whose latest inventions have all been money pits. 

The screening is also a drinking game, facilitated by director Michael Bartkiewicz, who dresses the part in a blue-green chiffon gown and a curly blond wig. The rules of the game are to take a drink every time one of the characters mentions Christmas, gifts, Santa — you get the idea. This portion of the show is fine for those who are ready to get lit for the holidays, but really it delays the gems of the evening, which are the original episodes. 

David Cerda has written two episodes with some smart framing and strong sensibility for sketch comedy. The show was conceived by Hell in a Handbag Productions in Chicago, and this is the first Atlanta staging. Yes, that iconic theme song plays at the beginning. And yes, set designer Matthew Dupee re-creates the set, right down to the palm-leaf-patterned fabric on the wicker furniture.

In the first episode, the ladies are getting ready for Christmas in their own ways. Dorothy and Sophia are doing some last-minute shopping and Blanche is trying to hook up with as many mall Santas as possible. Rose is hoping to bring back the spirit of Christmas and has a fever dream — involving a blind angel — that sends the whole house into a tilt-a-whirl. 

The first episode starts off a bit slow and messy. There’s a play on It’s A Wonderful Life that doesn’t hold together. The writing doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. The irony of writing chaos onstage is that each moment has to be incredibly tidy to work. The script tries to make up for the messiness by inserting a lot of male anatomy jokes, but the moments that work best are the ones where the actors are becoming farcical versions of the already farcical characters.

Precious Anika West as Blanche impersonates Rue McClanahan’s walk and voice so well, it’s almost as if she’s possessed by her. Robert Hindsman has perfected Sophia’s iconic shuffle and lands the dry humor and one-liners every time. If anything, the production could afford to slow down the pace so that audience laughs don’t step on the jokes. 

With “The Golden Girls,” the Out Front cast and crew “prove that sketch comedy is very much in their wheelhouse,” ArtsATL critic Kelundra Smith writes. (Photo by Tyler Ogburn)

Andi Stanisec as Rose is the star of second episode, which is overall tighter, better and laugh-out-loud funny. On this next Christmas, the ladies have too many house guests, most notably Sophia and Dorothy’s Jewish cousin, Esther (Rial Ellsworth), and Aunt Inga (Lisa Boyd), Rose’s aunt/St. Olaf’s cheese empress. Plus, Blanche is getting ready for a sexy performance of “Santa Baby” at the community center, but a younger woman, Misty (TJ Ruth) threatens to steal her thunder. With all of these competing interests in the house, what could possibly go wrong? 

Somewhere around the time Flo (Kait Rivas), whose purpose isn’t quite clear, has to go to the hospital from being hip-bumped too hard in a Santa costume, it’s just par for the course. From Esther’s Hanukkah song — performed in a metallic dreidel-printed sweatshirt — to the dancing cheesecake choreography, the show leans into its own silliness and earns its laughs. 

The Out Front cast and crew have created a riotously funny evening that is not at all suitable for young (or sexually inhibited) audiences. With The Golden Girls, they prove that sketch comedy is very much in their wheelhouse. It makes for a fun night out and certainly injects some ho-ho-ho into the holiday season.

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Kelundra Smith, an ArtsATL Editor-at-Large, is a critic and arts journalist whose mission is to connect people to cultural experiences and each other. Her work appears in The New York Times, ESPN’s The Undefeated, American Theatre and elsewhere. She is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. 

 

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